Chapter Seven

OK, so now what?

Alone in the penthouse, I stand motionless for a moment, looking around me. The owner might not be back for ages. What am I going to do now?

Out of the blue I get an image of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, rushing wildly from room to room, opening cupboards and jumping on beds.

Not that I’m going to do that, of course. I’m a professional twenty-nine-year-old woman, not an eight-year-old child.

Saying that, I’d love a quick snoop . . . Er, I mean a look . . . around.

Tentatively I venture down the hallway and into the spacious living room, still marvelling at the incredible 360-degree view. Quite different from the one you can see from my apartment, I muse, gazing at the Empire State, which is right there, as if someone moved it specially – a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right – so it’s smack bang in front of the window.

To think I got all excited about cricking my neck to catch the teeniest of glimpses from Robyn’s window. I feel a flash of embarrassment. This is like having front-row seats.

Awestruck, I turn away from the view and continue tiptoeing around, but I’ve only gone a few steps when a thought strikes. Swanky pads like this probably have some super-top-of-the-range security system. What if there’s CCTV cameras and I’m under surveillance? And I’m standing on a pristine white shagpile rug with my grubby old flip-flops . . . Looking down at my feet with dismay, I quickly step backwards. Only one of my feet has sort of stuck. Hang on, what’s—

Chewing gum.

On the white shagpile rug.


Dropping to my knees, I quickly pick at the greasy, grey blob with my fingers. Eugh. This is so sticky and disgusting. I pick harder, but it’s welded itself to the rug and won’t come off. I feel a stab of panic. Crap! I know, maybe if I use my nail scissors . . . I scramble around in my bag. I carry so much rubbish around with me that I’ve probably got a pair . . . Aha, here they are!

I start digging at the tufts of shagpile with one of the blades. If I just scrape those . . . Painstakingly I work on each tuft, scraping each one, until after a few minutes there’s just a couple of stubborn little bits left. I know, what if I just trim those? No one will ever notice. It’ll be as good as new . . .

Fuck. There’s a hole.

I’ve made a hole!

With my heart thumping hard in my chest, I stop my frenzied topiary and stare at the rug in frozen horror. The hole stares back at me. Oh my God, Lucy! You’re left on your own for five minutes and this is what happens?

In a desperate attempt I try ruffling it with my fingers, but it’s no good – there’s definitely a space where more tufts should be. It’s almost like a bald patch.

Suddenly I have an idea. I know! What about doing a sort of comb-over?

Using my fingers, I get to work trying to arrange the tufts just so, but it’s not easy. They keep springing back and I have to flatten them with my hand, then wrap a few more strands round . . . God, now I know how Donald Trump feels. Exasperated, I continue tugging a piece this way and that, until finally I seem to have it covered. OK, now it just needs to stay that way.

Rummaging around in my bag again, I pull out my little can of hairspray and give the rug a generous spritz. Perfect. You’d never even know the difference.

Triumphantly I survey my handiwork. I feel rather pleased with myself. Disaster averted! Still, perhaps I should just sit down and wait for the owner to arrive home, I think as an afterthought. It’s probably safer that way. After all, I don’t want any more accidents.

Padding barefoot over to the sofa, I perch gingerly on the edge of a cushion, being careful not to de-plump it. A fan of magazines is neatly spread out on the coffee table in front of me, but I resist the temptation to flick through them. I’m not going to touch anything, remember? I’m just going to sit right here and wait until the owner arrives. I’m not going to move a muscle.

Instead I glance at the titles, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair . . . In my head I hear Lloyd Grossman’s voice again, Whoever lives in this penthouse is probably in the film business. I feel a beat of excitement. Gosh, I wonder if it’s someone famous. There was me thinking it was some boring old banker, but maybe it’s a big-shot director. Or even an actor.

No, Magda would have told me, I tell myself quickly.

Wouldn’t she?

Intrigued, I cast my eyes around for clues, but I can’t see any photos or knick-knacks or unopened mail. I wonder if there’s anything in the rest of the apartment . . .

I last about five seconds.

Then my curiosity gets the better of me and I’m up from the sofa and tiptoeing into the bedrooms. There are packing boxes strewn everywhere. So that explains it. Whoever lives here has just moved in, I conclude, playing detective. I feel a sudden sense of affinity with my mystery client. I wonder if he’s new in town too.

I steal a look inside the fitted wardrobes. A sleek row of suits hangs neatly in various shades of grey. Underneath are several pairs of shoes. I pick one up. It’s leather. Despite myself, I can’t resist taking a peek at the sole: ‘Made in Italy.’ I feel a flash of excitement. Which of course is ridiculous, I tell myself quickly. As if I care where his shoes are made.

Quickly putting it back, I sneak glances into both bathrooms – large, white and marble, they’re empty apart from an electric toothbrush and a couple of disposable contact-lens cases – and end up in the designer kitchen.

I glance around it nervously. My lack of culinary skills is something of a running joke in my family. Kate calls my style of cooking ‘one, two, three, ping’ in reference to the sound of the microwave when it’s finished. Which is a little harsh (I once made Rice Krispie cakes and they were delicious). I admit I do find kitchens a bit scary. I mean, they’re filled with endless equipment, and utensils, and ingredients, that I have no clue what to do with.

Take this one, for example. It’s terrifying. Stainless-steel countertops, state-of-the-art gadgets, an intimidating cooker with a million different dials and knobs. It’s called Wolf. How scary is that? And then there’s that hulking great big fridge. What on earth do you need a fridge that size for? I take a look inside. There’s nothing on the shelves apart from a few bottles of sparkling water, a bag of organic oranges, a tub of 0 per cent fat Greek yoghurt and some quinoa.

Quinoa? What’s that? I read the packet. ‘An ancient grain, filled with goodness and nutrition.’

Crikey, whoever lives here is seriously healthy. Where’s the chocolate? The takeaway leftovers? The Diet Coke?

Er, in your fridge, Lucy.

Feeling a stab of guilt, I hastily close the door. I’ll buy some ancient grains next time I go shopping, I tell myself firmly. Still, chocolate isn’t unhealthy. I once read an article in a magazine about how it’s filled with iron and . . . I draw a blank. Well, anyway, it’s ages since I read the article.

Exiting the kitchen, I wander back towards the living room to resume my position on the sofa. Boredom gnaws at me. I haven’t found anything very interesting and the novelty of the penthouse is beginning to wear off. Plus I’m pretty tired. It’s been a long day. I’d quite like to go home now, get in the bath and curl up on the sofa with tonight’s episode of Oprah and the man who thinks he’s a grizzly bear that Robyn’s recorded. I laughed when Robyn told me about it, but now it’s beginning to seem quite appealing.

Letting out a yawn, I’m padding back down the hallway when I notice a bookcase. I didn’t see it before, but like everything else in the flat, it’s still empty. Next to it are a couple of half-opened cardboard boxes. No doubt filled with books, I muse, kneeling down and lifting up the cardboard flap to take a look.

Not that there’s anything much to see. Like I thought, just piles of books. Absently I leaf through a couple of political autobiographies, several travel guides, a couple of dog-eared John Grishams, a book on Renaissance painters . . . I pause, my interest piqued. It’s quite a heavy hardback, and tugging it out, I lie it on my lap and start flicking through the pages. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli . . .

My eyes flick over each painting. It’s like looking over photographs of old friends. On some I think the brushwork is amazing; others it’s the light; some I find a little too sentimental, or too religious.

As I turn the page, my heart skips a beat.

Portrait of a Musician by Titian.

I stare at the face looking out at me, my mind leaping back to the very first time I saw this painting. I was nineteen years old and wandering around the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice with a guidebook and the obligatory pair of earphones that didn’t work when I’d stumbled across it, tucked away in a darkened corner.

It had been love at first sight.

With long, dark, messy hair swept away from his face, a beard, brooding eyes, soulful expression, strong forehead and unwavering gaze, he was one of the most handsome men I’d ever laid eyes on.

And a musician too! Which was just so typical of me. I’ve always had a thing about musicians. Show me a man with facial hair and a guitar and I’ll show you a major full-blown crush. Evan Dando from the Lemonheads, the tragic Kurt Cobain, even Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, they all leave me weak at the knees.

My mind spools back. I can remember it as if it’s yesterday, standing in a little patch of sunlight, staring at him transfixed and thinking I’d found my ideal man, and what a shame he wasn’t real. It was part of my course in art history – not the lusting bit – but the reason I was in Italy for the summer. I’d only been there a few days but already I’d fallen in love about a million times – with the huge plates of black truffle pasta, the faded ochre-coloured buildings and stunning piazzas, the sound of the water lapping gently against the banks of the canals . . .

And now with this painting.

‘Bit of a cool dude, huh?’

It had been hearing a voice behind me that had finally caused me to drag my eyes away. Otherwise, who knows how long I’d have remained standing there, marvelling at Titian’s skill as a painter and relishing the delicious coolness of the gallery after the baking midday heat outside. Those few words, spoken in an American accent, had made me realise I wasn’t alone and I’d turned round, expecting—

Actually, to this day I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Nothing really. Just another tourist with a camera and a guidebook. After all, the city was filled with millions of them. If anything, I was probably a bit irritated about being interrupted from daydreams.

And that’s when I first saw Nathaniel.

Long, messy hair. Blond. Jeans and a T-shirt. Converse All-Stars.

And I just knew.

In the split second it had taken for my eyes to sweep over him, standing in the shadows, just a few feet away, with his hands in his pockets and a lazy smile on his face, I’d been hit with something so unexpected, so sudden, so unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was like a lightning strike. A sense of certainty so powerful it had sent me reeling.

The Italians call it colpo di fulmine. Love at first sight.

This was it. He was the One.

What’s that noise?

Abruptly zoning back, I look up from the book. I can hear a humming sound. A sort of high-pitched whining . . . Puzzled, I cock my head on one side, trying to figure out where it’s coming from. It’s down that way, towards the hallway, I decide, glancing at the crates of paintings stacked up against the wall and the elevator at the far end.

Oh shit.

The elevator.

That’s where it’s coming from.

No sooner has the thought struck than I see the light next to it ping on.

I feel a flash of panic. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. That must be him. The client. He’s back!

Jumping up, the book falls from my lap to the floor with an almighty thud and I scrabble for it, while at the same time tugging at my skirt and trying to tuck my hair behind my ears. I want to look suitably professional and composed, and not like someone who’s been snooping around the apartment for the last hour.

Shoving the book hastily back in the box, I turn to see the doors sliding open. OK, don’t panic. Everything’s cool. Just act normal. Right, yes, normal.

Only the problem is, there’s nothing even remotely normal about being in a stranger’s penthouse apartment while they rock up in the private elevator.

I glimpse the doorman first, the familiar flash of his dark green uniform, and then a figure appears from behind him. Tall, receding slightly, wearing a suit and sunglasses, he’s looking down at some mail in his hand as he steps out of the elevator. I watch as the doorman goes back down in the lift, then glance back at the owner of the penthouse.

‘Hi,’ I quickly introduce myself, trying not to sound as nervous as I feel. ‘I’m from the gallery.’

Suddenly aware of my presence, he looks up and slides the sunglasses on to his head. As he does, I see a flash of surprise in his eyes. Pale blue eyes with grey flecks around the irises.

It’s like a ten-ton truck just crashed into my chest.

Oh my God, it can’t be.

It just can’t be.


You're the One That I Don't Want